OPPOSITION UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema has been challenged to substantiate his claim that Zambia is losingUS$1.8 billion in electricity subsidies annually. The challenge has been thrown by the Energy Forum Zambia (EFZ) which said the country’s combined subsidies on fuel and electricity in the recent past were estimated to be slightly above US$ 600 million per year. EFZ chairperson Johnson Chikwanda questioned how Mr Hichilema arrived at that loss figure because the US$600 million was consistent with observations made by the IMF team which visited Zambia early this year. “Therefore, the Forum hereby challenges Mr. Hakainde Hichilema to substantiate the statement that Zambia is losing US$1.8 Billion per year on electricity alone,” he said He said the forum, was of the view that the US$1.8 billion was outrageous and exportation of hopelessness and that the statement painted a picture of an apocalyptic energy sector. “It is not true that this is what Government is spending on electricity subsidy. The forum is also alarmed that Mr. Hichilema is describing subsidies meant to support the public and business houses as ‘losses’,” he said. He said EFZ had been tracking down the level of subsidies the Zambian government has been spending on both fuel and electricity. Mr Chikwanda said the Forum was further concerned that the UPND has never discretely articulated itself how it intended to fix the energy sector other than plagiarising efforts of the current Government. “We analysed their 10 points and found that the point dealing with the energy sector fell well below expectations for a leading political party,” he said. The Forum has since called upon the Minister of Energy to issue a ministerial statement on the floor of Parliament to inform the nation whether the figures Mr. Hichilema mentioned were correct, and if not the wrong message which had been exported to the public through a media briefing should be corrected. “As a Forum, we have decided to become very steadfast in dealing with statements coming from those who sit in the alpha position regarding the status of the energy sector as they can either build or imperil the energy sector,” said Mr Chikwanda . The forum furthermore called on the Minister of Energy to inform the public when the Government would start eliminating the subsidies so as to prepare the public instead of announcing sudden price hikes. “The President of the United Party for National Development (UPND) Mr. Hakainde Hichilema has been quoted by sections of the media as saying that Zambia has been losing US$1.8 billion per year on electricity alone. “To this end, the forum could reveal that Zambia’s combined subsidies on fuel and electricity in the recent past were estimated to be slightly above US$600 million per year and that this figure got exacerbated due to expensive electricity imports and that the bigger portion of this subsidy was due to fuel subsidy alone,” he said. He said the Forum has consistently lobbied for the removal of fuel and electricity subsidies as they tended to benefit a narrow section of society at the expense of the majority population.